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Opinion: “Alex Neil is a good choice, but things are far from clear at SAFC”

It’s been a murky few weeks in the shadows of the SoL corridors…

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Only Sunderland.

Only Sunderland could sack a manager and then let two coaches, neither of whom are interested in doing the job, take the next two games.

Only Sunderland could take two weeks to appoint a manager and then appoint one so late in the day that he barely had a training session or the chance to get to know the players before a match.

Only Sunderland could allow a covert photo of said manager to appear all over social media, see various national media outlets report Alex Neil as the manager and then, with fans demanding an announcement, tweet a half-baked response at the 11th hour.

I think Alex Neil is a decent appointment. His personality will suit Sunderland fans more than Lee Johnson. He comes across as quick-minded, honest, open and capable of delivering a clear message. To me, I believe he will have a nasty streak that managers need to have.

You look at his record - he did well with Hamilton and took them to the Scottish top-flight from nowhere. They defeated larger, established clubs in Scotland such as winning away at Celtic and beating Aberdeen.

Soccer - Scottish Premiership - Play Off - Final - Second Leg - Hibernian v Hamilton Academical - Easter Road Photo by Jeff Holmes/PA Images via Getty Images

He then went south of the border to Norwich City and got them promoted at the first time of action. I accept they were relegated the year after but relegations and yo-yoing are fairly common at Carrow Road.

Then most recently at Preston North End. On one of the smaller budgets in the Championship and under pressure to maintain a positive bank balance, he was forced to constantly sell his better players and was unable to build a steady side. The fact he had them just outside of the play-offs was a testament to the job he did. Preston fans on the whole speak very highly of the job he did at Deepdale.

I think his post-match interview after Wimbledon was refreshing and insightful. So often Johnson infuriated supporters by his strange remarks after the game but Neil identified immediately the burn-out affecting so many of our younger players. Let’s not forget, he’d been in the job a little over a day.

So, while I think Neil is a decent appointment, the way the club has handled the whole situation is alarming and should raise serious questions about the way Sunderland AFC is being run.

As much as I agreed with the decision to remove Lee Johnson as manager, if you’d told me we’d go two weeks with no appointment and get zero points from six, I might have said hang-fire. That’s not a ringing endorsement of the regime.

Why we put all of our eggs in the Roy Keane ‘basket’ and allowed that to drag on so long with no resolution? Surely everyone would know Keane would have reservations about the job and then even more alarmingly, backed away from the job despite looking nailed on to take over.

Sunderland v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light
The Roy Keane basket is now done for
Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Another issue is, who’s making the key decisions within the club? Kyril Louis Dreyfus is the majority shareholder but perhaps crucially, he doesn’t have full control. Legally and maybe contractually, he has to allow other people with a stake in the club to have a say. Even with 100% control, you’d feel someone of his youth would want some delegation and help to make key decisions within the club.

Those people are rumoured to include Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven.

I mentioned earlier how there was a lack of understanding between Lee Johnson and Sunderland fans. With Methven and Donald, it’s so far off the scale it’s untrue. They may try to understand what Sunderland fans want but ultimately they appear to get it wrong spectacularly time and time again. Particularly Methven with his career in public relations, it doesn’t look good.

It would certainly explain the utterly abysmal handling of the whole situation. It would also belie the idea that the KLD era is a clean break from the old regime.

It’s been announced that KLD has just 41% of the club compared to the trio of Madrox (Stewart Donald, Juan Sartori and Charlie Methven) who control 59%. This is alarming given the unpopularity of the three compared to the relative optimism fans have for KLD.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Play-off Semi Final 2nd Leg
No one is coming out of this looking good
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

It surely goes a long way to explaining the handling of the managerial situation and also the lack of harmony between fans and the ownership.

You couldn’t get someone less like Sunderland fans than Methven. If his alleged texts messages are to be believed, it shows not only a total lack of respect for Sunderland fans but also is shocking public relations from a man who built his career in that very industry.

There are also key questions about their future plans and intentions for the club. They speak less these days compared to the early spell at the club. Who can forget the podcasts and talk-ins that particularly Donald and Methven attended? The desire to have their voices heard has dried up as quickly as the goodwill from Sunderland fans did. It means we don’t really have an idea of where they see us in a few seasons' time.

In my honest opinion, it shows they simply don’t care about the future direction of the club, or more worryingly - they don’t know. The idea that they were simply looking to buy shares, have quick success and then sell them on at an inflated cost looks more and more accurate as time goes on. They look completely out of their depth.

I think KLD must also take a look at the part he has played in this as well. The whole ‘takeover’ was very ‘cloak and daggers’ and perhaps he should have spoken out a lot earlier to clarify how the club's shares were now split. The fact he has gone along with it for so long doesn’t endear him to Sunderland fans. It also begs the question, why now?

Maybe things have gone slightly sour within the boardroom at the club.

One thing is for sure - it’s never boring being a Sunderland fan.


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